When Andi Xoch created the Latinx With Plants Instagram last spring, she never envisioned that a little more than a year later, it would bloom into a plant store of the same name amid a global pandemic.
Her first post in March 2019 credits D'Real Graham, founder of @blackwithplants, for encouraging her to create the Instagram page. During an interview with Hunker, she adds that it was a "beautiful and symbolic connection for Black and Brown unity at a time where we're constantly having to face barriers and obstacles."
Xoch's numerous Planta Parenthood pop-ups in Los Angeles began as fundraisers last Christmas and flourished into something bigger as plants became more essential to folks' wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. With more than 25,000 followers, Latinx With Plants shares light-hearted memes, plant advice, and plant inspo. At the heart of it all is the 33-year-old's mission to cultivate an accessible space that revolves around communities of color.
Xoch found a permanent home on César Chávez Avenue in Boyle Heights in August, and you can't help but feel at ease when entering it and being greeted by different types of pothos hanging from the ceilings ("To me, she's the queen of all plants," Xoch says during our interview) along with calatheas, cactus, monsteras, and more, adorning the shelves.
For Latinx Heritage Month, we spoke to Xoch about opening the store, her journey with plants, and what she envisions for the future.
Hunker: How does it feel to open your own plant store amid a global pandemic and to have started such an uplifting online community?
Andi Xoch: I didn't know I was capable of something like this. I've always been very insecure and it was hard to find the courage at times to do something like this, but when it comes to desperate times and desperate moments, you don't think about your insecurities, you think about what the task at hand is. For me, at the time, it was my dad's health that put a lot of my priorities into perspective. Through that, I lost the fear and I gained the confidence I knew I had.
I knew I was capable of organizing, bringing people together, and working hard for what I want but in a sense, it was very serendipitous. It was as if by divine intervention that all this happened so quickly. And as my dad's health was deteriorating, my success and my drive to succeed was growing. I didn't imagine any of this.
Hunker: How has the meaning of "community" changed for you throughout all of this?
AX: It's tricky because organizing in the community has always been very grassroots and autonomous but without any real financial support from anyone — I didn't get a loan, I didn't get an investor. [Latinx With Plants] was purely funded by my community's support. I've never asked anything from [my community] and I never thought I needed to, aside from just showing up to events I wanted to support and causes I wanted to spotlight. So, I was putting myself in a very vulnerable situation where you're asking for money … I would have never done that, had it not been for a crucial time in my life where I needed my community's help.
Hunker: What has been the most difficult part of starting your own business?
AX: Difficult moments drive me and put more fire under my ass to take these calculated risks. I'm looking to rent extra space in the back [of the store], finding an apartment for my dad and myself, trying to figure out a lot of things and checking in with myself. I know I'm not the only one going through this and I think it's really important to highlight these things so that it's not like poverty porn, it's not like, 'Poor me, poor Andi.' Everyone's going through something and the fact that I get to be highlighted is … I don't even know. I don't even think that what I'm doing with Latinx With Plants is out of the ordinary.
When you're in the eye of the hurricane, you don't see what people see. They think like, 'Andi's on fire.' I'm literally burning from exhaustion, stress, excitement, thankfulness — I'm feeling so much that I'm trying to keep it together. In a sense, I haven't really been able to completely feel everything.
Hunker: What's a piece of advice you would give someone thinking about starting their own business?
AX: The best advice I've gotten is to just be gentle with yourself. I have an obsessive personality that when I do something, I don't stop until I see it through. I think it comes down to being driven, being passionate about what you like. It's super cliché when they say, 'Find something you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life,' but it's true. I love plants. I know there's some sort of energy that's going on that's holding me together. [Plants] keep me in check. They remind me that I have a lot of responsibilities and that if I sleep on them, I'm going to lose a lot of money, I'm going to lose a lot of time invested, and I'm going to waste people's time. That's the last thing I want to do.
Hunker: How has your personal activism also shaped the way you continue build Latinx With Plants the store and the online community?
AX: When I used to be a part of the Ovarian Psycos Bicycle Brigade, it was a crucial time in my life because I was hanging out with other women who were just as broken, who were just as lost and craving for sisterhood, craving for love and support from your community. I think throughout my activism and community organizing, I've carried that because I know it requires a team to raise someone and even though I'm very grateful for my parents and in a sense, nada me falto — I still went through a lot of traumatic experiences with both of them. So building those leadership skills [through Ovarian Psycos], building sisterhood and learning how to be autonomous was a very important part of my upbringing ...
When I left the collective, I co-founded Ni Santas which I wanted to be a similar vision and mission, but using art. All the relationships and friendships that I built throughout the years of organizing ... I didn't know that I was going to one day need my community like I'm needing it now. But they're showing up. Everyone thinks everything happened overnight and, no, it was a long time coming and me building for this specific moment. I knew I wanted a business. I wanted to be my own boss and I knew that the store — whatever it was that I was going to have — was going to be on César Chávez Avenue. So manifesting everything to a T, I still feel that I have to pinch myself and remind myself that it's really happening.
Hunker: Can you talk more about your connection to plants and how you work to pass that to your customers?
AX: My fondest memories of my connection to plants and nature is when my family was still together, when my parents were still married. It was important in my mind to always keep a piece of my childhood with me and I'm realizing the best part of my childhood, the time when I felt the most free and happiest was when we were all together and outdoors — whether it was hiking in the forest or at the lake. So now I'm connected to it because of that.
Also because I know my ancestors had a super strong connection with plants — whether it was through herbs, spices, and plants you could eat and heal with. I'm realizing that it was all part of our culture.
Hunker: How does the Latinx With Plants Instagram page fit into the booming plant community on social media?
AX: We don't fit in and I don't think we want to fit in. We don't aim to be part of that trend, you know? I think this is more than a trend to us, this is a lifestyle. This is the way our culture has always brought us up and now it's just, like, we're acknowledging it in a deeper way and recognizing that most of these plants come from Latin America and tropical places. So to say that the Brown community is jumping on board, no, we're not jumping on board. We're reconnecting.
Hunker: What short term or long terms goals do you have in mind for the store?
AX: My goal is to own a bigger space and own multiple locations where I can safely host folks and that [it] could be COVID-safe because I don't think this is going to go away for another two years. It really gives me butterflies, and not the good kind. My stomach drops to think that we're going to have to navigate not only the business, but navigate people's safety ... I want a nursery. I want a place that's welcoming and where people won't make you feel intimidated by the idea of becoming a plant parent.
Educational components have always been important to me. For example, inviting folks who know more about medicinal plants and how we can arm our community again or the next generations that don't know much about those healing properties, or even just having nice plants.
Hunker: What is your favorite plant and why?
AX: I can't really narrow it down to one but I will say one of my favorite plants is the orchid jewel. Aside from it being rare and hard to find, I think the fact that this plant is so tiny and it survives with very minimal care — it's beautiful and when you stare at the foliage, it looks like there's a little thunderstorm going on underneath. It reminds you that even in the thunderstorm, it's beautiful. And it's tiny, like me. Tiny but mighty.